How to Study Multiple Languages (at ONCE!)

One of the most common questions I get as a language learner and aspiring polyglot is how to learn multiple languages at the same time.

If you’re like me, trying to juggle 5 languages is a daunting task. There’s reading practice and writing practice and listening practice and speaking practice. And what about all the apps and books and dictionaries? My head is spinning just thinking about it.

But fear not, fellow language learner: you can do this! I’m going to teach you how to learn multiple languages at once and how to learn them effectively!

Tip #1: Build a Basis in Each New Foreign Language Individually

As someone who loves languages, I want to learn them all. Literally. I wish I could study every single language that interests me. However, from a practical viewpoint, that’s just not possible. In fact, my first tip to language learning is to learn one language at a time.

But, wait. Didn’t I say I was gonna talk about studying multiple languages at once?

What I mean to say is that you should aim to only study one language from scratch at a time. For example, if you want to learn French and German, and you have never studied either of them before, you should pick one of them, get a good basis in the grammar and vocabulary, and then, once you have a strong understanding of how that language works on a basic level, start the next language. Building this basis may take time, but you should give each new language the attention it deserves at first, and devote time to learning its basics before learning another. What I’m trying to say is it’s easier to maintain several languages at once than to learn multiple languages from scratch.

Further, make sure you’re learning languages the right way. Classes or online courses are a good option. A good self-study program that includes a comprehensive textbook or grammar guide as well as opportunities to build vocabulary are great too. However, using “One Word a Day” apps, unfortunately, isn’t going to help you learn.

I hate to break it to you, but there is no short-cut to learning a new language, and if you’re serious about learning languages, that shouldn’t scare you.

Tip #2: Take Advantage of your Language Inventory

If you’re at a stage where you’re maintaining previously learned languages and it’s time to learn a new language, take advantage of your language inventory. For example, if you’ve previously studied a Romance language like French, Spanish could be a good next language for you.

Further, if you’re just starting, but your native language is English, a language that is close to English like Afrikaans or Dutch or even German may be a good choice. Pay attention to how languages relate to each other because languages that are part of the same language family allow learners to almost have a background in new languages since they share similar grammars and vocabulary cognates.

Related: Me Speaking FIVE LANGUAGES!

Tip #3: Make the Most of “Down Time”

My third tip, and probably my most useful tip is to make the most of your down time. When you’re not slaving over a textbook or a course, try to find ways to incorporate your target language or target languages in your everyday life whether that means you listen to the radio in your target language or watch movies or TV in your target language or read books in that language.

Further, take advantage of the fact that we live in the 21st century, and technology is our biggest ally for learning foreign languages. Apps are perhaps some of the best and most convenient ways to incorporate languages in your everyday life—you can study on the train or during lunch or even on the toilet. Some obvious apps include Duolingo and Memrise, but my recent favourite is called Flash Academy.

Currently, I’m using Flash Academy to help me refresh my German, but it is also available for French, Italian and Spanish. Flash Academy has game-ified language learning, and it uses various games to learn vocabulary and grammatical constructions. I particularly like it because it forces you to practice in the four areas of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Each new vocabulary word has an audio and video option to help learners hone pronunciation, and the courses also cover topics such as food & drink, work & school, and even advanced topics like Politics & religion. I think this is important for language learners because sometimes textbooks—and even other apps—have us studying words and phrases we might never actually use, but Flash Academy is very practical in that way.

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 2.39.57 PM
Haha, no… I was not using the “Object Translator” in the toilet…

The most powerful features of this app, I think, are the flashcards to help you review vocabulary and the object translator to help you learn new vocabulary. Using the camera on your phone or tablet, Flash Academy uses the object translator to give you an instant translation for the object you scan. Flash Academy is available from the Play Store as well as the Apple Store.

Tip #4: Have a Schedule

Whether you’re learning a language from scratch or continuing with previously studied languages, time management is key. For me, studying six languages as well as maintaining other commitments in my life like a job and family and friends and leading a healthy lifestyle is a challenge. Due to this, I have created a weekly task list.

So, my suggestion: set out weekly goals. They could change week to week, but make sure you’re dedicating time to each language you want to learn or maintain. And what if you don’t make your weekly goals? Don’t stress over it. You should learn languages because you want to, not because it’s a chore.

What suggestions do you have for learning multiple languages? Leave them in the comments below!

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